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It takes more than a head-on collision with a pine tree to stop a Can-Am Commander X – as Naomi Tillett, co-driving with Darrell Knight, discovered at last weekend’s round of the Australian Rally Championship!

The incident happened when the Adelaide crew slid marginally wide at a narrow right-hand bend on the first competitive stage of round two of the SXS (Side-by-Side) Challenge, which was run in conjunction with the Forest Rally in Busselton, WA.

With contact inevitable, Knight made a split-second decision to minimise the damage by striking the tree trunk square-on rather than on the left front corner.

It was a rough stop, but a good decision.

The diminutive off-road buggy suffered only a cracked radiator, enabling its shaken but uninjured crew to continue to the finish of the stage at only slightly reduced pace.

Tillett and Knight incurred time penalties for skipping the next few stages while Can-Am X-Team mechanics replaced the damaged radiator, but at least they were able to rejoin the field before the end of the day.

A steady run on day two, which was halted by a local bushfire with three of the eight scheduled stages still to run, resulted in fourth placing overall.

With Polaris RZR XP900s dominating the first two rounds of the SXS Challenge, Tillett and Knight are fourth overall.

They’re first in the unofficial ‘Commander X class’, with 77 points to the 70 of early pace-setter Michael Guest, who crashed out on the opening stage of the Forest Rally’s second day.

Tillett admitted that she was surprised to be still in the event after hitting the tree head-on at an estimated 40-50km/h.

“My initial reaction was ‘It’s over’, because that sort of impact would put most rally cars out on the spot,” she said.

“But I was amazed that the only operational part of the Commander that was damaged was the radiator!

“We were able to continue in the rally after the Can-Am X-Team mechanics put in a new one.”

Knight, a legend in off-road quad bike circles, conceded that it was taking him longer than he’d expected to run near the front of the SXS Challenge field.

“A side-by-side vehicle is more like a scaled-down 4WD car than a scaled-up quad bike – the biggest difference is that you can’t shift your body weight to balance the handling,” he said.

“It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’m quickly getting the hang of it.

“The Can-Am Commander X has performed remarkably well considering it’s a recreational and farm utility vehicle competing against a purpose-built competition model.”
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